How to Choose a Great-Fit School for Your Child
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What is a “great-fit” school?
We are often asked which school is the best school. Our answer? It’s complicated. We recognize are many school options for families in Boston and every family and child is unique. A great-fit school can look differently for every family—and can even look differently for each child within the same family.
Boston School Finder understands the school selection, registration, and enrollment processes can be overwhelming for families. This guide is designed to help you think about what a great-fit school means for your family and how to choose a great-fit school for your child. By thinking through your family’s priorities for your child’s education, this guide can make it easier to help you choose a school that is the best fit for your needs and priorities.
Research shows that parent involvement in school has a positive impact on student attendance and academic performance, so let’s get started!
Step 1: Create your list of priorities.
Use the questions below to help you identify what is most important to your family for your child’s school and education. Answer the questions below to determine your “must-have” qualities: these are the qualities your child’s school must have and are most important to you in a school that you choose.
Also consider: What type of environment does my child need to learn? What is important for my family? Remember: you are the expert on your child!
ACADEMICS: What are my priorities for my child’s learning experience?
- My child is learning to read and do math aligned with expectations for their age
- Has a specific affiliation or teaching method (e.g., Catholic, other religious affiliation, Montessori, Reggio-Emilia, Waldorf, other teaching method)
- My child is learning to read and do math aligned with expectations for their age
- Specializes in a specific subject area (e.g. Science, Math, Arts, Language Immersion)
- Strong special education department or program
- Strong English Learner department or program
- Class size: I prefer there are no more than _____ children in each class.
- Other academic priorities
SAFETY: What makes my child feel physically and emotionally safe at school?
STUDENT DIVERSITY: How important to you is the racial and/or socioeconomic diversity of students and their families?
STAFF DIVERSITY: How important to you is the diversity of the school staff (e.g., teachers, administrators, specialists, etc.)?
LEARNING SPACES: What facilities must the school have?
- Art room or studio
- Music room
- Science lab
- Computer lab
- Athletic fields
PROGRAMS: What programs must be available at the school?
- Fine or performing arts
- Community partners
- Parent engagement
LOGISTICS: What practical needs must be met for my family?
- Transportation provided
- Commute less than _____ minutes
- Distance less than _____ miles
- Start time: _____:_____ AM
- End time: _____:_____ AM
- Before school care available
- After school care available
- Uniform required
COST: Are you willing to consider schools that cost money (tuition) to attend?
- Yes, only if we receive financial aid or scholarships
COMMUNICATION: How should the school to communicate with my family?
- A family outreach person at the school or a family outreach program
- Materials translated into a specific language
- An administrator or teacher that speaks a specific language
- Family participation: How much do I want to participate in the school and in what way?
Step 2: Make a list of schools you are interested in and review all available data for each school.
Use a planner to list the schools you are considering and to track what information you have gathered before you make the decision to visit. Then, based on your initial research about each school, make a decision whether or not to visit the school in person.
As you make your list, consider the following: would this school be a good fit for your child? Do you want to visit the school?
We suggest you visit at least two to three schools, although you may choose to visit more. For each school on your list, do the following initial research:
- Visit the school's website
- Visit the school's Twitter feed (if applicable)
- Visit the school's Facebook Page (if applicable)
- View the school's School Profile page here on our website
After completing your initial research online, consider: did you find the information you need and did you find it easy to understand?
Step 3: Get more information from sources you trust if you still have questions about each school.
Ask two to three friends, family, or community members what they like or don’t like about their child’s school. Write down some of their thoughts to help you make your school visit decisions. Ask them the following:
- Where does your child go to school and what grade are then in?
- What do they love/like about their child's school?
- What do they wish was different at their child's school?
Step 4: Schedule your school visit(s).
Most schools hold information sessions/open houses for prospective families. Find dates/times for Boston Public Schools here, and visit charter and independent school websites for their events.
If none of the dates or times work for you, call or email the school to schedule another time. Here is a script you can use on the phone or as an email:
School Visit Request Script
My name is _____ and I have a child who will enter grade _____ in the fall of next year. We are considering your school as an option for our child. I would like to visit your school and take a tour, but the published dates/times you have available do not work with my schedule.
When could I come visit your school?
I am available these dates and times: [list dates and times here]. Could I please schedule a visit during one of these times?
>>> If needed, add:
I do not speak English fluently. My native language is [your language] and I require an interpreter during my visit who speaks this language.
Thank you for your help.
[Your name and contact information]
Step 5: Visit each school.
Make a copy of this checklist for each school you visit. Consider all of the following items as you tour the facilities and speak with staff. (Checklist adapted from the book Beyond Test Scores by Jack Schneider.)
I’ve looked at the physical spaces at the school:
- The outside of the school looks clean and well cared for: building, playground, outdoor classroom areas.
- The inside of the school looks clean and well cared for: classrooms, cafeteria, library, computer lab, gymnasium, bathrooms.
- Hallways seem orderly and safe.
I understand the school values and feel my child will be emotionally safe here:
- Adults speak with adults in a way that makes me comfortable.
- Students speak with each other in a way that makes me comfortable.
- Adults and students are speaking with each other in a way that makes me comfortable.
- Adults seem even-tempered and consistent, even if there is student misbehavior.
- I understand how parents can work with the school, and that fits with how I’d like to be involved.
- I feel comfortable asking questions to school leader. They respond to my questions in a way that makes me feel comfortable.
- I feel comfortable asking questions to current parents. They respond to my questions in a way that makes me feel comfortable.
- I understand what the school is good at and what they are working on, and I am comfortable sending my child here.
I understand how the school approaches academics:
- In classrooms I observe students asking questions and having conversations.
- In classrooms I observe teachers taking the time to answer questions thoughtfully.
- In classrooms I observe a majority of students participating, not just a few.
- I understand the supports that are in place for students who are struggling or falling behind and how to use those supports.
- I understand the academic expectations that the staff has for my student. I believe these expectations are age-appropriate and will help my child learn.
- The curriculum and teaching is effective at helping my child meeting these academic expectations.
- I observed other classroom grade levels and I would like to see my child doing these things in school.
- I understand how the school is meeting the needs of all students, including students with specific needs (inc. English Learners or students with IEP), or students from different cultures and backgrounds.
I understand what resources the school has, what they do not have, and I feel comfortable with the level of resourcing here:
- I understand which organizations the school partners with and in what way.
- I understand the largest resource challenges and how the school deals with those challenges.
- I understand the types of support students typically receive from non-teaching staff, such as counselors or nurses.
- I believe the school facilities are adequate and will meet my child’s needs.
- I like the programs available at the school (e.g., art, music teacher, physical education, etc.).
- I feel comfortable with how parents support the school and how that impacts students.
- I feel comfortable with how often my child has an opportunity to engage with the community outside of the school.
I believe this school is a good fit for my child:
- I understand that no school is perfect, and my must-haves are met by this school.
- I believe in the values, the vision, and the leadership of the school.
- I believe this school can serve my child at all grades the school has, not just the grade my child is entering.
- I believe my child will feel comfortable, safe, and be learning and growing at this school.
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